The White Moll by Frank L. Packard
XXI. The Reckoning
It was the Adventurer who spoke first.
"Both of you! What charming luck!" he murmured whimsically. "You'll forgive the intrusion won't you? A friend of mine, the Sparrow by name - I think you are acquainted with him, Danglar - was good enough to open the door for me, and lock it again on the outside. You see, I didn't wish to cause you any alarm through a premature suspicion that you might have a guest!" His voice hardened suddenly as he rose from the cot, and, though he limped badly, stepped quickly toward them. "Don't move, Danglar - or you, Mrs. Danglar!" he ordered sharply - and with a lightning movement of his hand felt for, and whipped Danglar's revolver from the latter's pocket. "Pardon me!" he said - and his hand was in and out of Rhoda Gray's pocket. He tossed the two weapons coolly over onto the cot. "Well, Danglar," he smiled grimly, "there's quite a change in the last few hours, isn't there?"
Danglar made no answer. His face was ashen; his little black eyes, like those of a cornered rat, and as though searching for some avenue of escape, were darting hunted glances all around the garret.
Rhoda Gray, the first shock of surprise gone, leaned back against the washstand with an air of composure that she did not altogether feel. What was the Adventurer going to do? True, she need have no fear of personal violence - she had only to disclose herself. But - but there were other considerations. She saw that reckoning of her own with Danglar at an end, though - yes! - perhaps the Adventurer would become her ally in that matter. But, then, there was something else. The Adventurer was a thief, and she could not let him get away with those packages of banknotes up there behind the trap-door in the ceiling, if she could help it. That was perhaps what he had come for, and - and - Her mind seemed to tumble into chaos. She did not know what to do. She stared at the Adventurer. He was still dressed as the Pug, though the eye-patch was gone, and there was no longer any sign of the artificial facial disfigurements.
The Adventurer spoke again.
"Won't you sit down - Mrs. Danglar?" He pushed the single chair the garret possessed toward her - and shrugged his shoulders as she remained motionless. "You'll pardon me, then, if I sit down myself." He appropriated the chair, and faced them, his revolver dangling with ominous carelessness in his hand. "I've had a rather upsetting experience this evening, and I am afraid I am still a little the worse for it - as perhaps you know, Danglar?"
"You damned traitor!" Danglar burst out wildly. "I - I -"
"Quite so!" said the Adventurer smoothly. "But we'll get to that in a minute. Do you mind if I inflict a little story on you? I promise you it won't take long. It's a little personal history which I think will be interesting to you both; but, in any case, as my hosts, I am sure you will be polite enough to listen. It concerns the murder of a man named Deemer; but in order that you may understand my interest in the matter, I must go back quite a little further. Perhaps I even ought to introduce myself. My name, my real name, you know, is David Holt. My father was in the American Consular service in India when I was about ten. He eventually left it and went into business there through the advice of a very warm friend of his, a certain very rich and very powerful rajah in the State of Chota Nagpur in the Province of Bengal, where we then lived. I became an equally intimate friend of the rajah's son, and - do I bore you, Danglar?"
Danglar was like a crouched animal, his head drawn into his shoulders, his hands behind him with fingers twisting and gripping at the edge of the washstand.
"What's your proposition?" he snarled. "Curse you, name your price, and have done with it! You're as big a crook as I am!"
"You are impatient!" The Adventurer's shoulders went up again. "In due time the rajah decided that a trip through Europe and back home through America would round out his son's education, and broaden and fit him for his future duties in a way that nothing else would. It was also decided, I need hardly say to my intense delight, that I should accompany him. We come now to our journey through the United States - you see, Danglar, that I am omitting everything but the essential details. In a certain city in the Middle West - I think you will remember it well, Danglar - the young rajah met with an accident. He was out riding in the outskirts of the city. His horse took fright and dashed for the river-bank. He was an excellent horseman, but, pitched from his seat, his foot became tangled in the stirrup, and as he hung there head down, a blow from he horse's hoof rendered him unconscious, and he was being dragged along, when a man by the name of Deemer, at the risk of his own life, saved the rajah's son. The horse plunged over the bank and into the water with both of them. They were both nearly drowned. Deemer, let me say in passing, did one of the bravest things that any man ever did. Submerged, half drowned himself, he stayed with the maddened animal until he had succeeded in freeing the unconscious man. All this was some two years ago."
The Adventurer paused.
Rhoda Gray, hanging on his words, was leaning tensely forward - it seemed as though some great, dawning wonderment was lifting her out of herself, making her even unconscious of her surroundings.
"The rajah's son remained at the hotel there for several days to recuperate," continued the Adventurer deliberately; "and during that time he saw a great deal of Deemer, and, naturally, so did I. And, incidentally, Danglar, though I thought nothing much of it then, I saw something of you; and something of Mrs. Danglar there, too, though - if she will permit me to say it - in a more becoming costume than she is now wearing!" Once more he shrugged his shoulders as Danglar snarled. "Yes, yes; I will hurry. I am almost through. While it was not made public throughout the country, inasmuch as the rajah's son was more or less an official guest of the government, the details of the accident were of course known locally, as also was the fact that the young rajah in token of his gratitude had presented Deemer with a collection of jewels of almost priceless worth. We resumed our journey; Deemer, who was a man in very moderate circumstances, and who had probably never had any means in his life before, went to New York, presumably to have his first real holiday, and, as it turned out, to dispose of the stones, or at least a portion of them. When we reached the coast we received two advices containing very ill news. The first was an urgent message to return instantly to India on account of the old rajah's serious illness; the second was to the effect that Deemer had been murdered by a woman in New York, and that the jewels had been stolen."
Again the Adventurer paused, and, eying Danglar, smiled - not pleasantly.
"I will not attempt to explain to you," he went on, "the young rajah's feelings when he heard that the gift he had given Deemer in return for his own life had cost Deemer his. Nor will I attempt to explain the racial characteristics of the people of whom the young rajah was one, and who do not lightly forget or forgive. But an eye for an eye, Danglar - you will understand that. If it cost all he had, there should be justice. He could not stay himself; and so I stayed-because he made me swear I would, and because he made me swear that I would never allow the chase to lag until the murderers were found.
"And so I came East again. I remembered you, Danglar - that on several occasions when I had come upon Deemer unawares, you, sometimes accompanied by a woman, and sometimes not, had been lurking in the background. I went to Cloran, the house detective at the hotel here in New York where Deemer was murdered. He described the woman. She was the same woman that had been with you. I went to the authorities and showed my credentials, with which the young rajah had seen to it I was supplied from very high sources indeed. I did not wish to interfere with the authorities in their handling of the case; but, on the other hand, I had no wish to sit down idly and watch them, and it was necessary therefore that I should protect myself in anything I did. I also made. myself known to one of New York's assistant district attorneys, who was an old friend of my father's. And then, Danglar, I started out after you.
"I discovered you after about a month; then I wormed myself into your gang as the Pug. That took about a year. I was almost another year with you as an accepted member of the gang. You know what happened during that period. A little while ago I found out that the woman we wanted - with you, Danglar - was your wife, living in hiding in this garret as Gypsy Nan. But the jewels themselves were still missing. To-night they are not. A - a friend of mine, one very much misjudged publicly, I might say, has them, and has told me they would be handed to the police.
"And so, Danglar, after coming here to-night, I sent the Sparrow out to gather together a few of the authorities who are interested in the case - my friend the assistant district attorney; Cloran, the house detective; Rough Rorke of headquarters, who on one occasion was very much interested in Gypsy Nan; and enough men to make the round of arrests. They should be conveniently hidden across the road now, and waiting for my signal. My idea, you see, was to allow Mrs. Danglar to enter here without having her suspicions aroused, and to see that she did not get away again if she arrived before those who are duly qualified - which I am not - to arrest her did; also, in view of what transpired earlier this evening, I must confess I was a little anxious about those several years' accumulation of stolen funds up there in the ceiling. As I said at the beginning, I hardly expected the luck to get you both at the same time; though we should have got you, Danglar, and every one of the rest of the gang before morning, and -"
"You," Rhoda Gray whispered, "you - are not a thief!" Brain and soul seemed on fire. It seemed as though she had striven to voice those words a dozen times since he had been speaking, but that she had been afraid - afraid that this was not true, this great, wonderful thing, that it could not be true. "You - you are not a - a thief!"
The Adventurer's face lost its immobility. He half rose from his chair, staring at her in a startled way - but it was Danglar now who spoke.
"It's a lie!" he screamed out. "It's a lie!" The man's reason appeared to be almost unhinged; a mad terror seemed to possess him. "It's all a lie! I never heard of this rajah bunk before in my life! I never heard of Deemer, or any jewels before. You lie! I tell you, you lie! You can't prove it; you can't -"
"But I can," said Rhoda Gray in a low voice. The shawl fell from her shoulders; from her blouse she took the package of jewels and held them out to the Adventurer. "Here are the stones. I got them from where you had put them in old Luertz's room. I was hidden there all the time last night." She was removing her spectacles and her wig of tangled gray hair as she spoke, and now she turned her face full upon Danglar. "I heard you discuss Deemer's murder with your brother last night, and plan to get rid of Cloran, who you thought was the only existing witness you need fear, and -"
"Great God!" The Adventurer cried out. "You - Rhoda! The White Moll! I - I don't understand, though I can see you are not the woman who originally masqueraded as Gypsy Nan, for I knew her, as I said, by sight."
He was on his feet now, his face aflame with a great light. He took a step toward her.
"Wait!" she said hurriedly. She glanced at Danglar. The man's face was blanched, his body seemed to have shriveled up, and there was a light in his eyes as they held upon her that was near to the borderland of insanity. "That night at Skarbolov's!" she said, and tried to hold her voice in control. "Gypsy Nan, this man's wife, died that night in the hospital. I had found her here sick, and I had promised not to divulge her secret. I helped her get to the hospital. She was dying; she was penitent in a way; she wanted to prevent a crime that she said was to be perpetrated that night, but she would not inform on her accomplices. She begged me to forestall them, and return the money anonymously the next day. That was the choice I had - either to allow the crime to be carried out, or else swear to act alone in return for the information that would enable me to keep the money away from the thieves without bringing the police into it. I - I was caught. You - you saved me from Rough Rorke, but he followed me. I put on Gypsy Nan's clothes, and managed to outwit him. I had had no opportunity to return the money, which would have been proof of my innocence; the only way I could prove it, then, was to try and find the authors of the crime myself. I - I have lived since then as Gypsy Nan, fighting this hideous gang of Danglar's here to try and save myself, and - and to-night I thought I could see my way clear. I - I knew enough at last about this man to make him give me a written statement that it was a pre-arranged plan to rob Skarbolov. That would substantiate my story. And" - she looked again at Danglar; the man was still crouched there, eying her with that same mad light in his eyes - "and he must be made to - to do it now for -"
"But why didn't you ask me?" cried the Adventurer. "You knew me as the Pug, and therefore must have believed that I, too, know all about it."
"Yes," she said, and turned her head away to hide the color she felt was mounting to her cheeks. "I - I thought of that. But I thought you were a thief, and - and your testimony wouldn't have been much good unless, with it, I could have handed you, too, over to the police, as I intended to do with Danglar; and - and - I - I couldn't do that, and - Oh, don't you see?" she ended desperately.
"Rhoda! Rhoda!" There was a glad, buoyant note in the Adventurer's voice. "Yes, I see! Well, I can prove it for you now without any of those fears on my behalf to worry you! I went to Skarbolov's myself, knowing their plans, to do exactly what you did. I did not know you then, and, as Rough Rorke, who was there because, as I heard later, his suspicions had been aroused through seeing some of the gang lurking around the back door in the lane the night before, had taken the actual money from you, I contrived to let you get away, because I was afraid that you were some new factor in the game, some member of the gang that I did not know about, and that I must watch, too! Don't you understand? The jewels were still missing. I had not got the general warning that was sent out to the gang that night to lay low, for at the last moment it seems that Danglar here found out that Rough Rorke had suspicions about Skarbolov's place." He came close to her - and with the muzzle of his revolver he pushed Danglar's huddled figure back a little further against the washstand. "Rhoda - you are clear. The assistant district attorney who had your case is the one I spoke of a few minutes ago. That night at Hayden-Bond's, though I did not understand fully, I knew that you were the bravest, truest little woman into whom God had ever breathed the breath of life. I told him the next day there was some mistake, something strange behind it all. I told him what happened at Hayden-Bond's. He agreed with me. You have never been indicted. Your case has never come before the grand jury. And it never will now! Rhoda! Rhoda! Thank God for you! Thank God it has all come out right, and -"
A peal of laughter, mad, insane, horrible in its perverted mirth, rang through the garret. Danglar's hands were creeping queerly up to his temples. And then, oblivious evidently in his frenzy of the revolver in the Adventurer's hand, and his eye catching the weapons that lay upon the cot, he made a sudden dash in that direction - and Rhoda Gray, divining his intention, sprang for the cot, too, at the same time. But Danglar never reached his objective. As Rhoda Gray caught up the weapons and thrust them into her pocket, she heard Danglar's furious snarl, and whirling around, she saw the two men locked and struggling in each other's embrace.
The Adventurer's voice reached her, quick, imperative:
"Show the candle at the window, Rhoda! The Sparrow is waiting for it in the yard below. Then open the door for them."
A sudden terror and fear seized her. The Adventurer was not fit, after what he had been through to-night to cope with Danglar. He had been limping badly even a few minutes ago. It seemed to her, as she rushed across the garret and snatched up the candle, that Danglar was getting the best of it even now. And the Adventurer could have shot him down, and been warranted in doing it! She reached the window, waved the candle frantically several times across the pane, then setting the candle down on the window ledge, she ran for the door.
She looked back again, as she turned the key in the lock. With a crash, pitching over the chair, both men went to the floor - and the Adventurer was underneath. She cried out in alarm, and wrenched the door open - and stood for an instant there on the threshold in a startled way.
They couldn't be coming already! The Sparrow hadn't had time even to get out of the yard. But there were footsteps in the hall below, many of them. She stepped out on the landing; it was too dark to see, but...
A sudden yell as she showed even in the faint light of the open garret door, the quicker rush of feet, reached her from below.
"The White Moll! That's her! The White Moll!" She flung herself flat down, wrenching both the automatic and the revolver from her pocket. She understood now! That was Pinkie Bonn's voice. It was the gang arriving to divide up the spoils, not the Sparrow and the police. Her mind was racing now with lightning speed. If they got her, they would get the Adventurer in there, too, before the police could intervene. She must hold this little landing where she lay now, hold those short, ladder-like steps that the oncoming footsteps from below there had almost reached.
She fired once - twice - again; but high, over their heads, to check the rush.
Yells answered her. A vicious tongue-flame from a revolver, another and another, leaped out at her from the black below; the spat, spat of bullets sounded from behind her as they struck the walls.
Again she fired. They were at least more cautious now in their rush - no one seemed anxious to be first upon the stairs. She cast a wild glance through the open door into the garret at her side. The two forms in there, on their feet again, were spinning around and around with the strange, lurching gyrations of automatons - and then she saw the Adventurer whip a terrific blow to Danglar's face - and Danglar fall and lie still - and the Adventurer come leaping toward her.
But faces were showing now above the level of the floor, and there was suddenly an increased uproar from further back in the rear until it seemed that pandemonium itself were loosed.
"It's the police! The police behind us!" she heard Shluker's voice shriek out.
She jumped to her feet. Two of the gang had reached the landing and were smashing at the Adventurer. There seemed to be a swirling mob in riot there below. The Adventurer was fighting like a madman. It was hand to hand now.
"Quick! Quick!" she cried to the Adventurer. "Jump back through the door."
"Oh, no, you don't!" It was Skeeny - she could see the man's brutal face now. "Oh, no, you don't, you she-devil!" he shouted, and, over-reaching the Adventurer's guard, struck at her furiously with his clubbed revolver.
It struck her a glancing blow on the head, and she reeled and staggered, but recovered herself. And now it seemed as though it were another battle that she fought - and one more desperate; a battle to fight back a horrible giddiness from overpowering her, and with which her brain was swimming, to fight it back for just a second, the fraction of a second that was needed until - until - "Jump!" she cried again, and staggered over the threshold, and, as the Adventurer leaped backward beside her, she slammed the door, and locked it - and slid limply to the floor.
When she regained consciousness she was lying on the cot. It seemed very still, very quiet in the garret. She opened her eyes. It - it must be all right, for that was the Sparrow standing there watching her, and shifting nervously from foot to foot, wasn't it? He couldn't be there, otherwise. She held out her hand.
"Marty," she said, and smiled with trembling lips, "we - we owe you a great deal."
The Sparrow gulped.
"Gee, you're all right again! They said it wasn't nothin', but you had me scared worse'n down at the iron plant when I had to do the rough act with that gent friend of yours to stop him from crawlin' after you and fightin' it out, and queerin' the whole works. You don't owe me nothin', Miss Gray; and, besides, I'm gettin' a lot more than is comm' to me, 'cause that same gent friend of yours there says I'm goin' to horn in on the rewards, and I guess that's goin' some, for they got the whole outfit from Danglar down, and the stuff up in the ceiling there, too."
She turned her head. The Adventurer was coming toward the cot.
"Better?" he called cheerily.
"Yes," she said. "Quite! Only I - I'd like to get away from here, from this - this horrible place at once, and back to - to my flat if they'll let me. Are - are they all gone?"
The Adventurer's gray eyes lighted with a whimsical smile.
"Nearly all!" he said softly. "And - er - Sparrow, suppose you go and find a taxi!"
"Me? Sure! Of course! Sure!" said the Sparrow hurriedly, and retreated through the door.
She felt the blood flood her face, and she tried to avert it.
He bent his head close to hers.
"Rhoda," his voice was low, passionate, "I -"
"Wait!" she said. "Your friend - the assistant district attorney - did he come?"
"Yes," said the Adventurer. "But I shooed them all out, as soon as we found you were not seriously hurt. I thought you had had enough excitement for one night. He wants to see you in the morning."
"To see me" - she rose up anxiously on her elbow - "in the morning?"
He was smiling at her. His hands reached out and took her face between them, and made her look at him.
"Rhoda," he said gently, "I knew to-night in the iron plant that you cared. I told him so. What he wants to see you for is to tell you that he thinks I am the luckiest man in all the world. You are clear, dear. Even Rough Rorke is singing your praises; he says you are the only woman who ever put one over on him."
She did not answer for a moment; and then with a little sob of glad surrender she buried her face on his shoulder.
"It - it is very wonderful," she said brokenly, "for - for even we, you and I, each thought the other a - a thief."
"And so we were, thank God!" he whispered - and lifted her head until now his lips met hers. "We were both thieves, Rhoda, weren't we? And, please God, we will be all our lives - for we have stolen each other's heart."